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Support for spatial audio arrives on the Google Pixel

Support for spatial audio arrives on the Google Pixel

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The virtualized surround sound feature will work with any headset, but support for head tracking will be exclusive to the Pixel Buds Pro.

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A close-up shot of the Pixel Buds Pro.
The Pixel Buds Pro.
Photo by Chris Welch / The Verge

The Google Pixel’s January update is here, and it adds a new spatial audio feature for the Pixel 6, 6 Pro, 7, and 7 Pro phones. Android researcher Mishaal Rahman has verified that a toggle for the feature is appearing in the settings menu of the Pixel 6 Pro with the stable update, which is rolling out now to Pixel devices.

According to Google’s support page for the feature, it’s able to take audio from apps that offer 5.1 surround sound audio and make it sound like it’s coming from in front and behind you, as though you’re surrounded by speakers in the real world. Google notes that it should work with “any connected headset.” That even includes wired headphones, according to a Google blog post from last year.

There are technically two different kinds of spatial audio support eventually coming to Pixel phones. The one that’s rolling out now as part of January’s update is the less advanced of the two because it doesn’t automatically adjust as you move your head. So if you’re watching a surround sound video and turn your head to the left, it’ll then sound as though the center channel speaker has also moved to your left. 

That won’t be the case with the upcoming head-tracking spatial audio feature, however, which will be exclusive to the Pixel Buds Pro and will be arriving via a firmware update “in the coming weeks.” Once it arrives, you’ll be able to move your head and it should sound as though the virtual speakers surrounding you stay in place. A support page notes it should work with “​​content marked as Dolby audio or 5.1.

If the feature sounds familiar, that’s because Apple and Samsung already offer versions of it for their own headphones and handsets. Apple’s works with AirPods (third-gen), AirPods Pro, and AirPods Max, while Samsung’s version is called 360 audio and works with its Galaxy Buds Pro, Buds 2, and Buds Live. Now, Google has its own version, although it’s a shame it’s also locked to its own ecosystem.